President Harrison, Secretary Sias and the LCMS Board of Directors (BOD) shamefully hid from Synod their true intentions regarding Concordia College — Alabama in Selma. Newly shared documents and open records from Synod BOD minutes, convention records and the Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) opinions reveal their double-dealing regarding Selma.
Could this happen to a Concordia near you?
Selma never had a chance
- A secret, executive session vote was taken by the Synod Board of Directors to close the school years before it occurred. There was no bylaw-required agreement between a 2/3rds majority of the Synod Board of Directors and either a 2/3rds majority of the Council of Presidents OR a majority vote of the college’s regents to close Selma (see Bylaw 126.96.36.199, 2016 LCMS Handbook, pages 127-128).
- There was no public debate or convention vote taken – nor was the Milwaukee Convention even aware of an issue. In fact, delegates received a glowing report from Selma (see the 2016 LCMS National Convention Workbook, pages 79 and 80) that a $12M capital campaign had produced almost $20M for the college.
- A resolution from the Selma BOR that could have revealed the problem in time to do something was hidden prior to the convention by President Harrison’s floor committee in an “Omnibus Resolution” (Download and read 2016 LCMS National Convention Workbook Overture 7-18 on pages 372 and 373 and Today’s Business, pages 37 and 38).
- President Harrison, Secretary Sias and the Synod BOD are now covering up the process with more executive session resolutions and faulty CCM opinions.
Our United List leaders just worked to keep their intention to cause a financial crisis and close Selma close to the vest. No one in the Harrison International Center wants this true story to be told to our Synod.
Synod BOD’s Secret Vote
While publicly supporting the college and promising financial support, secretly Harrison’s board already voted in executive session to close it.
Six months before their February 2016 public “support” of Selma, the BOD sent their secret, true resolution to the Board of Regents of Selma. It reads in part:
“Resolved, that The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Board of Directors herewith request the CU Alabama Board of Regents join the Board of Directors and the Concordia University System Board of directors to divest Concordia College Alabama from the Synod under Bylaw 188.8.131.52(k).”
This executive session decision shows the true intent of the Synod Board of Directors, despite their attempts to cover up their actions with later public resolutions.
Their intent was to keep this resolution hidden. When asked directly in November 2015 at the Council of Presidents meeting about a rumored resolution regarding Selma, Synod BOD Chairman Michael Kumm denied their action because it was taken in executive session — and Southern District President Kurtis Schultz was told by Synod’s legal counsel that he could not reveal the BOD action because the vote was taken in executive session.
This lack of transparency and hidden agendas is yet another reason for Synod to seek new leadership for Synod’s BOD.
Selma BOR Refuses – Synod BOD Acts
The Selma Board of Regents refused to agree to this secret resolution from August 24, 2015. In response, President Harrison, Secretary Sias and the United List majority of the Synod BOD set in motion a series of actions that created a financial crisis and forced the closure of Selma.
With assistance from the records of the Selma Board of Regents, Congregations Matter has pieced together the timeline and document trail which reveal the sad and shameful facts.
Whether or not Selma could have survived with their proposed turn-around plan is not the issue.
The issue is simply this: The closure of our Synod’s only historically black college came about by hidden decisions of the Harrison administration, Secretary Sias and the United List majority of the Synod BOD.
And one more thing: Could this happen to your Concordia, too?
The Paper Trail of Public “Support”
In 2015, Selma was on the cusp of completing their turn-around efforts. In rapid succession they expanded and updated their campus, completed needed deferred maintenance projects, and by their extraordinary efforts and God’s blessing raised $19.7M for the effort.
Having moved this far by faith and hard work, the Selma BOR sent a March 2015 resolution to the Synod BOD asking for their continued commitment to the college. Click here to read the Selma resolution.
In response, the Synod Board of Directors passed two resolutions in support of the college in their February 2016 meeting. Click here to read the resolution of the Synod BOD, beginning on page 149.
In the first resolution’s resolves, the Synod BOD promised support of:
- $1.7 M by March, 2016
- Another $1.5M on or before July 15, 2016, dependent on three things:
- Submission of required financial reports;
- A pro forma plan to sustain Selma as a college, following Selma’s March 2015 resolution. The plan’s viability will be judged solely by the Synod BOD; and
- “Closure and Teach-Out Contingency Plan” that contemplates the closure of the college.
- $500,000 by October 1, 2016 (with similar contingencies)
- $300,000 by December 1, 2016 (with contingencies)
The second resolution requires the Synod BOD chair to review the bylaws regarding the closure of a CUS school and propose bylaw changes to the 2016 LCMS convention.
Now Comes the Boom…
The rest of the story may be difficult to follow because it gets “into the weeds” of Synod bylaws, conventions and executive session resolutions. However, a careful reader will understand the following themes:
- The Synod BOD continued to act on their original, hidden agenda. They never gave Selma a chance.
- Our Synod was kept from knowing the truth by the use of executive session resolutions and floor committee decisions at the convention.
- Selma leaders were kept from speaking out about Harrison’s secret decisions – and received many warnings from the BOD of the possible legal liability of raising funds in light of the school’s likely closure.
- Selma leaders were told by Synod BOD Chairman Kumm on March 30, 2016 they could not send financial campaign letters. Citing a Synod BOD resolution of February 22, 2016, Chairman Kumm prohibited Concordia Selma from appealing to donors for the financial support Selma needed and the Synod BOD required. The reason? Concordia Selma was most likely going to close.
- At the same time donors report that information from the secret August 24, 2015 resolution from the executive session of Synod BOD was shared with them. Synod representatives told donors that Selma was closing. That action cost the college 2 million dollars in pledges — money that would have been enough to give the college a chance to survive.
- All of this intrigue is now being “papered” by the Synod BOD and the Secretary of Synod to cover their covert actions.
- Selma closed because President Harrison, Secretary Sias and the Synod BOD wanted it to close.
…And Here Are the Details
- After negotiation and agreement, the Selma BOR worked on their part of the bargain. They created a business plan for the survival of the college and a Synod BOD required “Closure and Teach-out Contingency” plan as another option. A “teach-out” allows a college or university to close over a period of years, ensuring students an opportunity to complete their education or transfer to another institution.
- Because of the August 2015 secret resolution by the Synod BOD, the Selma BOR also sent Overture 7-18 so that delegates to the 2016 Milwaukee Convention could consider the future of Synod’s Concordia College — Alabama (see 2016 LCMS National Convention Workbook, pages 372 and 373).
- As the “Stories from Selma” independent video reveals, Synod BOD Kumm and Harrison appointees at the International Center forbade the college to make further financial appeals. As the Selma Times-Journal article and others report, long-time donors were told the college was going to close and some were asked to direct their gifts for other purposes.
In this video, Reverend Dr. McNair Ramsey, former Interim President of Concordia College Alabama, transparently describes what Synod’s current leadership did, and did not do, to and for Selma.
Dr. Ramsey says (at 8:35 mark):
“No (local Concordia) Board of Regents can close a school – that’s in the Handbook – probably the second Bible of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod – but the Handbook states that the chain of command is the (LCMS) Board of Directors is at the top, the Concordia University System (is second), then the Board of Regents (of Concordia College Alabama) … I know for sure that our (CCA) Board of Regents has not, and did not, decide to close this institution. I know that for a fact. And the Synodical Board of Directors voted to close this school and the word got out that they had voted and then they pulled back and denied that they had decided to do that.”
Dr. Ramsey continues (10:00 mark):
“So I cannot understand why … (given) the importance of this institution with the influence that it plays on the people’s lives in this particular area of the country … why our Synod would decide that they are going to close this institution based on a few million dollars which could have very easily been given had transparency been used to say to our church body that Concordia College Alabama is in need of help (and) I call upon our church people to offer help, but transparency was not offered in terms of the decision and why they wanted to keep it such a secret is yet to be known.”
Dr. Betty Hubbard, Dean of Institutional Effectiveness, adds (11:05 mark) Selma even prepared fund-raising letters explaining to congregations about the financial need and that Selma will not soon be viable without help, but Synod’s attorneys would not even let Selma send fund-raising letters out.
- In March 2016, Synod provided it’s promised $1.7M to get them through the end of the academic year.
- Despite being encouraged by the Synod BOD to bring the Selma issue to the Milwaukee Convention floor, in May 2016 the Harrison-appointed Floor Committee sends the Selma resolution to “Omnibus A.” (See Today’s Business, pages 37 and 38). Including Concordia Alabama’s resolution in “Omnibus A” means that instead of the convention dealing with the Selma issue, it was referred back to the Synod BOD. In other words, only the Synod BOD United List majority (who have already voted for Selma’s demise) will make the decision about Selma’s future.
- On June 2, 2016, the Selma BOR plan is submitted to Synod’s BOD.
- On June 30, 2016, the Synod BOD lists 14 additional requirements for Selma to qualify for the next $1.5M of support. That’s 45 days before students begin to arrive at Selma for the 2016-2017 academic year.
- The 2016 Synod Convention meets July 9-14, 2016, with no mention of any Selma crisis. It is buried in the Omnibus motion and Southern District President Kurtis Schultz is reminded that he may not speak about the Synod BOD decision because it was made in executive session. Harrison covered up his Selma closure plan.
- The Selma BOR provide the additional supporting documents requested to the Synod BOD on July 15, 2016.
- On July 28, 2016 – two weeks before students arrive – Synod BOD determine Selma is not eligible to receive the promised funding of $1.5M, forcing Selma into financial crisis.
Remember: Synod promised the funding no later than July 15, 2016!
- The Selma BOR informs the Synod BOD that they cannot make the August payroll without this funding. The $1.5M payment would allow Selma to open for the next school year and be able to pull down Pell grant money to get then through the school year and continue their improvement process.
- Synod BOD counsels Selma not to open and close the school immediately. Synod leaders suggest bankruptcy (which would put at risk the personal assets of all members of the Selma BOR). The Selma BOR dips into their small endowment and opens the school year.
- All four newly-elected United Lister members of the BOR resign their offices. Elected at Milwaukee in July 2016, they all resigned before Christmas.
- On September 9, 2016, the Synod BOD informs the Selma BOR they will allow Selma to divest and become an independent college with several conditions, one of which is that Selma will relinquish the Concordia name.
- Concordia Selma continues to work with an outside investor and seeks its separation from Synod.
- The college survives on investor funds and is able to manage and opens for the 2017-2018 school year using its viability plan. Synod BOD continues to refuse to fund its promised aid. Plans for an appropriate “Teach-out” are proposed and denied by the Synod BOD.
- The Synod BOD votes on June 7, 2017, to wash their hands regarding the Selma issue. In executive session they resolve to have “no objection to” the closure of Selma and state the decision falls entirely on the Selma BOR and that the process defined by Synod Bylaw 184.108.40.206 has not been invoked. In other words, the Synod BOD is covering up through another executive session resolution what they originally hid in their resolution almost two years before.
- On December 4, 2017, the Selma BOR votes to close the college as of May 31, 2018.
- On December 19, 2017, Synod BOD votes in executive session to agree with the Selma BOR to close as of May 31, 2018.
- The Selma Times-Journal breaks the story on February 6, 2018 that Concordia College – Alabama is in trouble and will close — the first public acknowledgement of Selma’s dilemma.
- In May 2018 the last graduating class of Concordia College – Alabama received their diplomas.
- In October 2018, the assets of the college are being liquidated.
Despite all the work and sacrifice of Selma leadership to turn the future of the college around, Selma never had a chance. Harrison and the United List majority of the Synod BOD wanted Selma closed and did whatever it took to close it.
Lack of Transparency and Misinformation
When questioned at several district conventions this summer, President Harrison stated “I did everything I could to save Selma.” He spoke of a $12 million-dollar debt of the college that overwhelmed them. Neither of these are true.
Instead, President Harrison silenced Selma’s voice at the Milwaukee convention and restricted Southern District President Schultz from speaking about the back-door dealings nationally at Council of Presidents meetings and regionally within Selma’s constituency. Ask recently-retired Southern District President Schultz about what happened. He will be glad to share his experience
Is this how it will go with our other Concordias?
Truth Swept Under the Rug
“History is written by the victors.” That’s certainly Selma’s experience.
The abuse of Selma goes on. In a surprising move to silence Selma’s Board of Regents (BOR), questions posed to the Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) run by United Lister Secretary Sias were redacted in Opinion 18-2889 so severely they are unrecognizable.
For instance, a 275 word, three-part question, posed by Selma’s BOR to expose what they believe are unconstitutional actions by Synod’s Board of Directors done in executive session was reduced by Secretary Sias to one sentence: “How are the assets of a University liquidated?”
Sias’ redacted question and subsequent CCM answer fails to address the issues posed in the question. The Selma BOR questions are trying to expose the hidden agenda of the Synod BOD as expressed in executive session decision and the process outside of Synod’s bylaws that were used to close the college.
You can read the questions from the Selma BOR here — and read the redaction and response from Secretary Sias and the CCM here. Decide for yourself if this is transparency or a cover-up.
If It Happened to Selma…
With the intent of the Harrison administration to centralize authority over our Concordias under a single University President and Board of Regents, will what happened to Selma happen to your Concordia?
Already without direction from convention delegates Concordia Portland was approached by the Harrison administration to leave the university system.
Which of our Concordias are next — or are there already executive session resolutions by the Synod BOD regarding your school? How would you know?
This has to change. We need new leadership at Synod from top-to-bottom. It’s time for your congregation to nominate truthful men for Synod President, Synod First Vice President and regional vice presidents who will honor Synod’s bylaws and not hide the truth from delegates, donors and congregations.
Congregations Matter has proposed a list of qualified candidates for your congregation to consider. Others will, too. As you are making your choice, consider which candidates will:
- Support congregations in their work of ministry for the sake of Christ Jesus and the salvation of souls for His Kingdom.
- Lead transparently instead of hiding actions and papering over poor decisions.
- Restore our Synod to its historic roles of strengthening and supporting congregations as our LCMS Constitution so plainly describes in Articles III and VII.
- Create a vision of hope for the future of our Synod.
And then more. When our delegates get to Tampa in 2019, let’s elect a Synod Secretary who will support a new Synod President. Let’s elect men and women to serve on boards and commissions who will restore our Synod to its historic roles instead of concentrating all authority, direction, and control in St. Louis.
Congregations – and ALL of our Concordias – matter.